Tranquil our paths
When your hand rests in mine in joy.
Your voice gives life, like nectar.
To see you, is more than food or drink.
Trans. by Ezra Pound and Noel Stock
As I sat on a park bench the other day, I appreciated the sound of laughter and conversation from the people around me. There was a family with three young children playing tag, an elderly couple, and a group of young adults sitting in the grass talking. Eyes were beaming and everyone seemed to genuinely enjoying being together.
Ten years ago, I might not have even noticed the jovial atmosphere. Not because I’ve necessarily become more aware over the past decade, but because it would not have been noteworthy to hear and see people happily conversing and interacting. The woman of the elderly couple rested her hand in the palm of the man’s hand. The parents of the young children smiled at the sound of their children’s voices. Even the trees, grass, and flowers seemed more alive.
While savoring this rare moment, I began to fantasize that somehow this group of humans had discovered an ancient secret to happiness. It seemed that if they had had musical instruments, they would have made music together. Or, with paint brushes, they would have harmoniously created a painting together. I could only fantasize so far; like me, they have shelter, food, and access to a clean public park. Yet, it was still striking that given their age, gender, and racial diversity, none were using digital devices. All heads were raised, hands free, happily engaged.
Humans have long experimented with and been influenced by our tools – flint arrowheads to earthenware to typewriters and robots. None have been as overpowering and as luring as our most recent inventions. It is rapidly becoming more commonplace to see humans interacting with screens and electronic devices than with one another or nature. The average person is unaware that this shift is radically narrowing – rather than widening – our capacity for true happiness.
Social bonding, compassion, creativity, contentment, and the generally ability to be able to feel and care evolve from interacting with other humans and living beings. Studies of the brain show that it needs dynamic interaction. While our screen world seems to be multi-sensory, the studies show we have the illusion of being more connected but are less aware and more isolated emotionally. We need real physical social interaction, like these people in the park, for well-being and inner tranquility.
The anonymous Egyptian poet from about 1500 B.C.E. summarizes the gifts within everyday touching, listening, and seeing. When we gently hold the hand of a loved one, no words are needed. The love and support is understood. Their voice can bring us ease and a mere glimpse of their face can make us smile from the inside out. The seemingly mundane shapes our ability to trust, accept and explore, and to surrender our cravings and other obstacles that cloud our day-to-day perspective. I will continue to take intentional cyber-breaks – some short and some long – in honor of those ancient poets and sages who preserved perennial truths about the beauty and joy to be discovered through our innate humanness. I hope you will join me.
This practice helps renew your awareness of the sense of sight, hearing and touch.
- Sit somewhere where your digital devices are out of reach, sound, and sight. Even if they are in airplane mode, create some distance between you and them.
- If you are in a chair or bench, place the soles of your feet on the ground.
- Close your eyes, or have a soft gaze.
- Give yourself a gentle hug. If you feel fearful about being out of touch digitally, squeeze your upper arms with your hands and quietly reassure yourself that for the moment you are surrounded with support of the air around you and earth beneath you.
- Place the palm of one hand over the center of your chest. (Your fingertips will point toward the opposite arm and shoulder.)
- Allow yourself to explore whether there are any sensations or emotions. There is no right or wrong here. Just explore. For example, does the skin on the chest – even beneath the clothing – feel different when your hand is lightly touching your chest, resting there, or moved away. How about the skin on the fingers and palm? Does it register different sensations if you let your hand completely relax and rest on the chest versus if you lightly touch? Are there any feelings, such as comfort?
- Keeping that hand resting on your chest, rest the other hand on top of the hand on your chest. Explore sensations and feelings that you may have in the hands.
- Breathe here for a few moments. Notice any movement in your torso associated with the inhalation and exhalation, e.g., your ribcage expanding as you breathe in.
- Lightly cup your palms over your ears. Relax through the shoulders and eyes. Breathe five to six breaths. Notice the sound of your breath and any sensations associated with having your hands over your ears.
- Lightly place your palms over your eyes. Fingertips are pointed upward and lightly curling over the top of your scull. Breathe five to six breaths. Notice any sensations, both while the hands are over your eyes and when you bring your hands away from your eyes.
Transition Back Into Your Day –
- Rest your palms lightly in your lap.
- Breathe calmly and peacefully for as long as is comfortable.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This reflection is an excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry pages 144-148, author Kate Vogt. The poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 26, co-edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo is by Janis Smits. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2023.
JOIN ME FOR MY UPCOMING VIRTUAL COURSE “Pathways to Peace: Truthfulness, Non-Stealing, Compassion and Other Universal Principles” – 5 Thursdays. March 30 to May 4 (with no class on April 6). 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT via Zoom. Offered through the College of Marin Community Education and their virtual Zoom classroom. Here’s the registration link!!